Intersectionality in practice. Research findings for practitioners & policy makers
Though interest in intersectionality is growing, much health equity work in the UK context remains focused on single issues — an approach that has yielded little progress in advancing equity for groups experiencing marginalization.
This report outlines research findings from a study that explored meanings and applications of intersectionality in policy and practice in the UK. The research was conducted between 2016 and 2020 through the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh and was supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Council. The study is the first in-depth exploration of how intersectionality is applied in the UK. It is the first research study internationally to explore policymakers’ and practitioners’ understandings of intersectionality and how they are applied in policy and practice.
The study drew data from interviews, focus groups, participant observation and document analysis with equality organizations focused on a range of different areas and their intersections, including racial justice, disability rights and 2SLGBTQI+ rights.
The analysis yielded five competing applied concepts of intersectionality, each with limitations and implications for groups experiencing multiple forms of marginalization. These concepts vary in their attention to power and structural understandings of intersectionality. They also differ based on whether they view inequalities as additive, as in they can be added to or subtracted from one another, or alternatively, whether they see inequalities as shaping one another and operating jointly.
For instance, a ‘multi-strand’ intersectionality embraces an additive view of inequality, equates intersectionality with diversity, and focuses on individual identities rather than structural causes of inequality. The author advocates instead for approaches that challenge single issue equality work and recognize that inequalities operate simultaneously and shape one another.
The author concludes the report with a series of recommendations for:
- equality networks, organizations, and practitioners (see page 43, table 8); and
- policymakers and funders (see page 44, table 9).
Among the recommendations are reflections on the applied concepts of intersectionality used in public health work and intersectional alliances formed through the work.
Additional resources and media to complement the report are available here.
Use this resource to:
- understand what it means to take an intersectional approach in policy and practice, including program and service delivery and community engagement work;
- distinguish between different understandings of intersectionality, their limitations and implications; and
- reflect on examples of how intersectionality has been applied in practice, policy, and decision-making.
Alignment with NCCDH work:
Understanding what is meant by intersectionality, and how it can be applied, aligns with other NCCDH work.
- In 2016, the NCCDH partnered with the NCC for Healthy Public Policy to explore the potential applications of intersectionality in public health practice and policy. Together, they released Public health speaks: intersectionality and health equity and a related webinar.
- In 2022, the NCCDH published Let's talk: Intersectionality as a foundational primer on this topic, as well as a companion curated list. These resources aim to increase understanding about intersectionality, as well as synthesize evidence on its historical roots and connection to critical race theory. The authors explore the use and misuse of intersectionality, the need for critical praxis, and reflect on opportunities to apply intersectionality across key public health roles to improve health equity.
- In 2023, the NCCDH partnered with the Black Health Education Collaborative to deliver a series of three webinars on disrupting anti-Black racism in public health. These webinars explore critical race theory and intersectionality as they pertain to the structural and social determinants of Black health.
- Also in 2023, the NCCDH initiated a series of webinars on faithfully applying intersectionality in public health and, concurrently, produced a suite of relevant resources on understanding power as a root cause of health inequity.
Christoffersen, A. (2021). Intersectionality in practice. Research findings for practitioners & policy makers. https://www.intersectionalityinpractice.ed.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Intersectionality-in-practice.pdf